The Association of Plastic Recyclers

About the APR Design® Guide

Plastics recycling is what we do each and every day. We know the challenges facing the industry and the solutions needed to scale recycling effectively as a key solution to reduce plastic waste and move toward a more sustainable, circular economy. Determining a plastic package or item’s recyclability goes beyond whether a specific municipal program collects it, or whether it’s made from a particular plastic resin. The APR Design® Guide for Plastics Recyclability helps package designers measure each aspect of a package design against industry-accepted criteria to ensure that it is truly recycling compatible. The APR Design® Guide is the most comprehensive resource outlining the plastics recycling industry’s recommendations in the marketplace today.

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  • How to use the APR Design® Guide

    If you are new to the APR Design® Guide and/or in the early phases of designing a new package, we recommend you follow these steps:

    1. Learn about APR’s definition of recyclable.
    2. Understand the four recyclability categories.
    3. Select the primary body material of your package.
    4. Evaluate the recyclability category of each design feature used in your package design (e.g. closures, labels, adhesives, inks, etc.).

    APR firmly believes that companies want to design packaging that is recyclable and sustainable, and we are here to help you achieve this goal. Get one-on-one help through the APR Design® for Plastics Recyclability Training Program.

    Important information about APR Test Methods and Recognition

    The APR Design® Guide for Plastics Recyclability, and the associated APR Recognition program, do not convey any consideration by any other organization nor guarantee recognition by any other organization. APR does not share submitted data with any other organizations. Whether a company achieves APR recognition is solely dependent upon the results of an APR review of test data. If APR intellectual property is to be used as documentation or justification toward any other organization’s evaluation or recognition, no claim of APR approval or recognition may be made under such circumstances without the express written permission of APR. When data are used by other organizations outside of APR’s recognition programs, in the absence of a licensing agreement with such organizations, the APR does not give permission for its name to be used to claim, or to imply in any way, that APR has recognized or approved the design feature or innovation that was tested. APR does not recommend, advocate, or influence any other organization’s decision making in this regard.

    The results of testing using APR’s Critical Guidance Test Protocols along with a Critical Guidance Technical Review are intended to qualify a company’s innovation for APR’s Critical Guidance Recognition only. The complete testing protocol process requires a review of the test results by a Technical Review Team convened by APR. If test results are not reviewed by an APR Technical Review Team, no APR recognition is possible. APR does not give permission for its name to be used to claim, or to imply in any way, that APR has recognized or approved the design feature or innovation that was tested when APR has not reviewed the test results.

    Although test data generated by a company is the property of that company and may be used for other purposes besides APR Critical Guidance Recognition, the test protocols are the property of APR and APR requires that they be used as written in their entirety. It should also be noted that partial test results that may under-report negative impacts from an innovation or design feature could misrepresent APR’s intention or position and will be called out by APR when these incidents come to APR’s attention.

    The APR provides Screening, Benchmark and Sortation voluntary test protocols at no charge to users as a service to the plastics packaging and recycling industries. APR does not recommend or authorize the use of its name or logo by any organization or company that uses these tests for evaluating a plastic package, innovation, or design feature for any public recognition, consumer-facing instructional label, or similar mark or communication.

  • Recyclability Categories

    APR Recyclability Categories

    Is my plastic product recycling compatible?

    APR Design® Preferred
    Detrimental to Recycling
    Renders the Package Non-Recyclable
    Requires Testing

    The APR Design® Guide classifies the recycling impact of package design features four Recyclability Categories. The guidance is regularly updated to ensure APR’s Recyclability Categories accurately reflect the operations and technology in use by today’s plastics recycling infrastructure.

    Companies whose packaging contains features that are Detrimental to Recycling or Render the Package Non-Recyclable are reducing and lowering the quality of their own future supply of post-consumer recycled content. Improving features so that the entire packaging achieves Preferred design supports a healthy recycling system and increases PCR supply.

    All features of package design must be accounted for to understand how a whole package will perform in the recycling system. The flow chart below illustrates the steps needed to assess a complete package for recyclability. While the APR Design® Guide can show that an item is technically recyclable, i.e. compatible with a recycling stream in terms of physical and chemical properties of the reprocessed item as feedstock, the need for a collection system and a market must also be satisfied. Learn more about how an item is deemed Recyclable per APR Definition”.

    Flow chart: Is my package design for recyclability?

    Click to enlarge
  • Impact & Scope

    How does the APR Design® Guide make an impact?

    Recycling is a highly interconnected system, and the success of each stage relies on what comes before and after it in the cycle. The APR Design® Guide closes the loop between package designers and plastic recyclers with a forum allowing collaboration toward the common goal of creating a Circular Economy for plastics. APR Preferred package designs drive the Circular Economy by enabling the highest value end use applications for recycled plastic - so plastic packaging can stay in the recycling system and out of landfills and the environment.

    In a circular economy, consumer product companies are their own material suppliers.

    APR Preferred design for recycling supports a healthy recycling system and increases the supply of high quality PCR. Companies benefit when their packaging is not only recyclable, but also yields high quality post-consumer resin (PCR).

    By minimizing contamination from the start, good design reduces unnecessary costs throughout the recycling value chain and improves productivity for plastic reclaimers. In turn, this ensures that brands are getting high-quality post-consumer resin (PCR) that meets performance requirements in their new products and packages.

    Scope of the APR Design® Guide

    This guide covers plastic items entering the postconsumer collection and recycling systems most widely used in industry today. Collection methods include single stream and dual stream MRFs, deposit container systems, mixed waste facilities, and grocery store rigid plastic and film collection systems. The impact of package design on automated sortation process steps employed in a single stream MRF, as well as high volume recycling processes is of primary consideration. Items recovered in systems where they are source-selected and sent to a recycler specializing in this particular item are specifically excluded from this guide.

    To see APR Design Guidance in context with other important recycling system topics, review The Recycling Partnership's Pathway to Circularity: Recyclability Framework.

  • Global Harmonization

    Package producers worldwide rely on the APR Design® Guide and the APR Global Design Catalog to create recyclable packaging. Recycling infrastructure, packaging trends, culture, and attitudes toward resource management vary regionally, even within each country. However, the principles of recyclable package design are universal.

    Our vision is a world where recycling is easy – where every citizen, regardless of nationality, can recycle plastic packaging with confidence. Standardization in package design will also simplify supply chains, prevent waste, and reduce global reliance on fossil feedstocks.

    APR members primarily represent North American markets. We collaborate with our counterparts around the globe to foster alignment between package designers and recyclers.

    In early 2023, APR and Europe’s leading recycling non-profit, RecyClass, signed a collaboration agreement to study the alignment of our design for recycling criteria and testing protocols. While recycling systems within both the United States and the European Union are currently decentralized and fragmented, we believe that alignment with one another will accelerate progress within by removing barriers, clarifying uncertainties, and defining a common vision.

  • Disclaimer

    The APR Design® Guide has been prepared by the Association of Plastic Recyclers as a service to the plastic packaging industry to promote the most efficient use of the nation’s plastics recycling infrastructure and to enhance the quality and quantity of recycled postconsumer plastics. The information contained herein reflects the input of APR members from a diverse cross-section of the plastics recycling industry, including professionals experienced in the recycling of all postconsumer plastic bottles discussed in this guideline. It offers a valuable overview of how package design impacts conventional plastics recycling systems and provides useful recommendations on how problems routinely encountered by plastics recyclers might be addressed through design changes that make plastic bottles more compatible with current recycling systems. Because new technological developments are always being made, this guide cannot anticipate how these new developments might impact plastic bottle recycling. Thus, while the information in this guide is offered in good faith by APR as an accurate and reliable discussion of the current challenges faced by the plastics recycling industry, it is offered without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied, including WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, which are expressly disclaimed. APR and its members accept no responsibility for any harm or damages arising from the use of or reliance upon this information by any party. APR intends to update this document periodically to reflect new developments and practices. 

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